Life Science Compliance Update

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November 09, 2017

Senators Blumenthal and Grassley Ask CMS to Continue Funding Open Payments

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In a letter to Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Eric D. Hargan, United States Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) ask HHS to prioritize funding for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Center for Program Integrity (CPI), a program that enhances transparency in transactions between medical providers and pharmaceutical companies.

The CPI’s Open Payments database, created under the bipartisan Physician Payments Sunshine Act, mandates disclosure of billions of dollars in payments from manufacturers to prescribers and hospitals. This is of concern at a time when over-prescribing of opioid medications has exacerbated a public health crisis nationwide.

“As part of your ongoing commitment to the mission of CPI, we encourage you to continue to prioritize funding and administration of the Open Payments database,” wrote the Senators. 

The letter also references “[r]ecent reports [that] have raised concerns about the effect payments to health professionals may have on opioid prescribing practices, which in many ways has exacerbated this ongoing public health epidemic. Pending litigation against a fentanyl manufacturer has revealed instances of regular weekly contact with high-volume prescribers, in addition to a large number of total payments.”

In their letter, the Senators acknowledge often, “relationships between academic medicine and industry are necessary and beneficial,” but express concern that “some financial relationships influence prescribing and drive up costs.”

Blumenthal and Grassley are the lead sponsors of a bill to expand the Physician Payments Sunshine Act disclosure requirements to nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who are currently not mandated to disclose transactions with manufacturers.

The Provider Payment Sunshine Act, S. 308, would require drug companies and medical device makers to publicly disclose their payments to nurse practitioners and physician assistants for promotional talks, consulting and other interactions. The disclosures already apply to doctors, dentists, chiropractors, optometrists and podiatrists under the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, co-authored by Grassley and enacted in 2010 adopted as part of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The records that apply to doctors are publicly available in the federal Open Payments database. 

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants write a significant number of prescriptions in Medicare and nationwide, and they were among the top prescribers for some drugs, including narcotic controlled substances, according to a ProPublica analysis. 

Blumenthal and Grassley are often on the same page when it comes to publishing payments from industry to physicians and other prescribers.

“There ought to be a complete record for consumer benefit,” Grassley has said. “The goal of sunshine for payments to doctors is to help the public. It makes sense to apply the sunshine to anyone who prescribes medicine. This bill is meant to continue the transparency that brings accountability in this part of the health care system.”

“It’s absolutely essential that companies disclose gifts and payments made to any health care provider who prescribes medications – not just doctors,” Blumenthal said. “Our bipartisan bill will rein in bad behavior by increasing transparency and accountability across the healthcare industry. Increased access to information is in the public’s best interest, and this legislation will ensure healthcare consumers receive safe, efficient, and cost-effective practices.”

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